HGTV’s new Mark Burnett-produced Design Star ends, and “what a disaster” it was

On HGTV’s Design Star earlier this season, judge Vern Yip said of the losing team’s design, “What a disaster!” The same could be said for this season of the show, which, despite being taken over by Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett and his team, actually got worse.

It concluded last night, with Emily Henderson winning her own HGTV show. Vern explained that she had “inspired rooms” and a “unique” hosting style that “translates beautifully.” That was more notable for Vern’s explanation than for Emily’s win over Michael Moeller, because the judges’ explanations of why they are eliminating people were still missing from most of the season, which is so incredibly unbelievable that it is mind-boggling.

What was once a good show with some problems has gradually become a show with many problems that has only some good elements. Two years ago, I reviewed both Design Star and Next Food Network Star and found the Food Network’s version to only be slightly better; Food Network’s show, however, has continued to improve, and is by far the superior get-your-own-network-show competition.

Most of that comes down to the judging, and Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson, and Bobby Flay just rock it. Had I not known Vern Yip and Genevieve Gorder from their days on Trading Spaces, I might be less upset and more dismissive, because they are awful here.

Firing Clive Pearse and letting the judges host has not helped the show. This is somewhat ironic because the judges are supposed to be evaluating the contestants’ ability to host a show, and Vern and company’s hosting, well, sucks: half of the lines seem to be voice-overs, recorded later. And Vern, in particular, seems to have been stripped of everything there is to like about him, as he’s trying to pretend to be Simon Cowell or something. “Get out of here!” he snapped at the losing team one week.

While I hate the show’s continual reliance on team challenges to manufacture drama, because they make it extremely difficult to for us to evaluate individuals, the single biggest problem with the show is the judges’ deliberations. And that has not changed. “Let’s talk about Trent,” Vern said on a recent episode, and then the editors cut to the designers talking in the back room. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the judges do not deliberate, but let the producers decide, because why else would they continually conceal that process from us over five seasons? It’s frustrating and stupid and insulting to the audience. After announcing the bottom two and viewing the host presentation, the judges whisper to deliberate instead of telling us what they thought. Why?

Every competition show ever needs to blatantly rip off Top Chef and have a Tom Colicchio-type who explains why each of the people up for elimination is standing there. Period.

There’s more that doesn’t work: Few of the contestants are people who seemed like people I’d want to watch on TV, because they seem generally nasty to one another. Also, the challenges have been consistently weak. Teams design a patio, and an apartment, and an apartment, and an apartment, and a firehouse room. Then they changed things up by going to work for Trump designing–wait for it!–an apartment.

Design Star has so much potential–interior design is fun to watch–but HGTV just bungles it, while its sibling network and series Next Food Network Star delivers week after week, season after season.

HGTV Design Star: C-

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.